Throw Some Luggage Overboard!

losingsomeofthebaggageOne of my oldest girlfriends, I’ll call her Sue, is incredibly self-aware when it comes to identifying her “stuff”, and owning it when she doesn’t show up the way she’d like. She started going to therapy when she was thirteen years old due to her parents’ ugly divorce, and as she got older, for her own relationship issues. She had watched her parents tear each other down directly and indirectly, through her. Her mom said horrendous things about her dad, and her father said awful things about her mom. When they each remarried (which they both did, more than once), the bitterness was quadrupled. Her stepmothers made snide remarks about her mother, her mother couldn’t stand her father’s new wife, either time. Her father thought her first step-dad was not very bright, and her step-mom said he laughed like a woman. I witnessed a lot of this myself, as did all our friends, at sleepovers and afternoons at her mom’s or dad’s house, and once, sadly, during Sue’s sweet sixteen. Her dad got drunk and took the mic to toast Sue, but it somehow deteriorated into a tirade about Sue’s mom. Not so sweet, and Sue ended up in the bathroom, with a bottle of champagne that she downed, and then threw up all night. And so it went. In high school Sue struggled with an eating disorder, and I watched her turn herself inside out trying to be perfect. To control the little bit she could. She was smart as a whip, but sometimes she’d play dumb because she thought guys liked that. Her family has a lot of money, and Sue would often buy lunch for a whole group of us. Or more accurately, she’d pay for lunch with her American Express and her dad would pick up the tab. Because her parents believed throwing money at the situation would somehow make it okay. We went to college together as well, and as we grew up, a pattern emerged for Sue that was no surprise to any of us who’d watched her struggle over the years. She kept picking guys who ended up hurting her. Not the typical stories of ways men and women can misunderstand each other, or not show up all the way, but deep, “I just realized he’s been stealing money from me for months” kind of pain. The relationships were usually high-drama, and there were many times Sue showed up at my house unexpectedly, eyes puffy and red, sobbing in the middle of the night. Sue started drinking heavily, first a couple of nights a week, and then most nights. Eventually she cleaned that up. If you were to talk to Sue, you’d know within minutes you were speaking to an awake, aware person. She’s intelligent and funny and kind. She can tell you exactly why she’s done the things she’s done. She can give you the whole road-map to explain all her choices and all her behavior. But so far, it hasn’t helped her resist the pull of that ancient pain. Sue wants a happy ending. But she keeps trying to go back and carve one out of her past. As if she could rewrite history. As if she could change her parents into people who were mature enough and loving enough to put her first. To love her well. And time and again, Sue ends up crashing into the brick wall she keeps choosing, even though the crashing part sucks. A few years ago, I really worried for her. She’d hit such a low point I wasn’t sure she was going to be okay. I went back to New York to teach, and I saw Sue for the first time in many months. She was gaunt, and her nails were bitten down to the quick. Her eyes were dull, and so was her spirit. Through it all, Sue has always been a force. So I was really disturbed to see this lifeless person who looked like Sue sitting before me. She’d just had another painful breakup, and I could see this time she was taking it particularly hard. She started to relay all the details of what had happened. What she’d done. What he’d done. What she said, and why she felt the way she did. I listened as I had so many times before. And when she was done, I looked at her and said, “Sue, I love you. You’re an incredible person with such a beautiful heart. But you have to put the baggage down now, or it’s going to destroy you. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re as lovable as a person gets. Your parents did the best they could but their best kind of sucked. You have to stop letting this own you.” And Sue started sobbing, right there at the restaurant. People looked over at us, and Sue apologized to me for making a scene. I went to her side of the table and hugged her, and told her to go ahead a make a scene. Because sometimes you work your sh&t out on a rainy Tuesday afternoon at a Thai restaurant downtown. Sometimes you’re just sitting there sobbing with chopsticks in your hand deciding it is finally enough.

Carrying your old, painful stories around with you wherever you go is exhausting, back-breaking work. At a certain point, it simply drains the life out of you. Everybody has pain. Everybody. Some people have more than others, and some are better equipped to deal with the everything that life brings. The heartache and disappointment. The trauma and abuse. The neglect and loneliness. The confusion and shame. We’ve all experienced at least one of these, some people have seen all of that and so much more. I once met a girl at a workshop I taught, who told me she had to stay angry at her father so he’d pay for what he’d done to her. I asked her how that was making him pay, since she never spoke to him or saw him. I said I was pretty sure she was the one paying. Your past will shape you and inform the way you think about yourself and the world. If that way isn’t loving, you’re going to have to unlearn some stuff, which is, of course, harder than learning it the right way the first time. If you think people suck, for example, you’re going to have to unlearn that. If you think you suck, you’re going to have to unlearn that first. Have some compassion for yourself. Be kind. In some way or another, we’ve all been Sue, collapsed on the bathroom floor, throwing up our pain all night long. If you want to travel back to your past in a productive way, go back there and give yourself a hug. Re-parent yourself if you need to. But put some of the heavy stuff down. It does not have to own you. The destination that really counts is your journey to inner peace. You’re going to have to throw some bags overboard to get there. Wishing you strength and love, Ally

Mirror, Mirror

iwantutolikemeWhen I was thirteen I had a ballet teacher who was incredibly hard on me. He’d shame me in class and never offer a kind word, no matter how hard I worked. One day as I stood on my toes and twirled and twirled, he yelled out, “You could walk into any company, Hamilton, and they’d take one look at your body and hire you. But as soon as they saw you dance, they’d fire you!’ I remember the feeling of shame, and the heat that rose up and stained my cheeks as I kept twirling and trying. Tears escaping the corners of my eyes, heart crushed. I danced that day with a fire raging inside me, until he finally asked if I was okay. Which shocked me, and made me wonder at my rage. Years later, after I’d stopped dancing, I ran into him on Broadway. He called out to me. He seemed much older, but his gait was unmistakable, and he was very kind. He asked me how I was, how my little brother was, and where I was dancing. When I told him I quit, he was stunned. He said he’d always thought I’d been special, that’s why he was so hard on me. The fact that he was so hard on me was one of the reasons I’d quit. I didn’t want to be in a shaming environment, hating myself, working for the approval of someone who never gave it.

If you’re a certain kind of person (caretakers and people-pleasers, take note), and you sense someone doesn’t approve of you, the disapproval is a hook. Once you’re on the line, you can dance like a clown, but you’ll never get the affirmation you seek. Unless you affirm yourself. I’ve had people roll up their mats and leave my yoga class, I’ve had people write nasty posts about this blog. Not everyone is going to like me, or you. The main thing is being able to look yourself in the eye at the end of the day when you’re brushing your teeth in front of the mirror. Being true to yourself and true to your heart, and not allowing anyone or any circumstance to crush it, at least not for long. If you live your life trying to please everyone else, you’re going to be miserable. You’ll be coming from a place of neediness and desperation. There’s no power in that, and you can never make everyone happy. I’d argue you can never make anyone happy. People are happy or they aren’t. That’s inside work. But if you’re living in alignment with what’s true for you, if you’re honoring your intuition and following the pull of that yes, you really can’t go wrong. That yes is your connection to your purpose and your gifts. Your gifts are yours to share. If you’re coming from that place, you’re coming from love. People who are angry or bitter may not like that. It’s hard to be coming from a place of pain. Wish them love, but follow your heart, so when you see those stickers on your mirror at the end of the day, it’s a no-brainer. Sending you so much love, Ally

Don’t Drive the Scorpion Ferry

notastatementaboutuThere’s an old tale I love about the Scorpion and the Frog. If you don’t know it, it goes something like this (although I’m taking some liberties): Once there was a scorpion on the bank of a stream. He called out to a frog, “Excuse me! Could you give me a ride across? I can’t swim!” And the frog said, “Dude, you’re a scorpion. I’m not giving you a ride. If you sting me, I’ll die.” And the scorpion said, “If I sting you, you’ll drown, and I’ll die, too.” This made sense to the frog, so he said, “All right, climb on.” Halfway across the stream, the scorpion stings the frog. With his dying breath, the frog says, “Why have you done this to us?”, and the scorpion says, “Dude, I’m a f&cking scorpion!”

The way people treat you is a statement about where they are on their journey as an evolving human being. It’s also subject to change; a scorpion may not always be a scorpion. The main thing to grasp is that it’s not a reflection of anything lacking in you. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll remember the much-older man I dated when I was seventeen. He was seeing other women for the three years we were together, and although I could never prove it, I always felt it. (I confirmed my fears once). And at the time, I took it as a sign that I wasn’t enough. Not pretty enough or “something” enough to keep him interested solely in me. And I spent so much time over the course of those three years feeling awful about myself. I was hooked on this interaction, and convinced if I could just be enough for him, then I’d be happy. I didn’t realize that his inability to be faithful had nothing to do with me, or that a person who’s lying and sneaking around is ultimately having a painful relationship with him or herself. When you respect yourself and are making choices that are aligned with what’s true for you in a conscious and kind way, you’re not going to lie. And I think if you’re like most people, the tendency is to take those times we’ve been hurt, disappointed, neglected, betrayed, or even abused, personally. Hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes. A person can only be where they are, working with whatever tools they’ve got. What IS about you, is what you do about it if someone isn’t treating you well. Sometimes we get caught up in relationships with lovers, family members, friends, or colleagues. Maybe things start out well, but over time the quality of the interaction deteriorates. Or circumstances change and you observe responses you wouldn’t have predicted. If you have a pattern of participating in relationships with people who treat you badly, then it is time to take a long, hard look at why. It’s about something. Identifying that something is the key to your freedom. Your deepest pain is your greatest teacher.

There are lots of frogs in the world, but there’s no other frog just like you. If you’ve been swimming in shark-infested waters too long, hiding in shadows and making yourself as small as possible out of fear, or some idea that you’re not lovable, or enough, or worthwhile, I hate to say it, but you’re going to have to turn around and swim directly for the mouth of that shark. Otherwise you’ll never rest. You’ll keep running the Scorpion Ferry, becoming harder and less hopeful with each ride. Being a hopeless frog sucks. I know, because I was one. Letting yourself get swallowed whole by the shark of your fear is not a fun ride, but it won’t kill you, either. If you’re still hanging with my Moby Dick-Aesop’s Fables-Life of Pi metaphor, then you probably already understand the Willa Cather quote, “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” The Dark Night of the Soul is a storm. But it’s also an invitation to know yourself, truly and deeply. To heal and liberate yourself from your pain, so that the next time a scorpion calls to you from the bank of a stream, you’ll be like, “What up, Scorpion? You need to get your ride from a shark, my friend!” Sending you love, and the strength to swim toward your pain if you need to! You are enough. Amazingly enough. Ally